Friday, January 31, 2014

Abducted Kiev Activist 'Crucified,' Tortured

KIEV, Ukraine -- A prominent Ukrainian antigovernment activist who went missing more than a week ago has turned up in a village near Kiev, saying that he was kidnapped and tortured by unknown men who spoke with Russian accents.

Missing activist Dmitry Bulatov turned up in a village near Kiev on January 30, saying he had been abducted and tortured.

Dmytro Bulatov, the 35-year-old spokesman for the Automaidan protest group, was reported missing on January 23 -- just after the abductions of two other opposition activists, one of whom was later found dead in a forest near Kiev showing signs of being tortured.

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports that Bulatov was taken to a Kiev hospital after turning up on the night of January 30.

He was being treated for injuries from apparent beatings and torture -- including a badly lacerated ear and puncture wounds on his hands and reportedly his feet. 

Bulatov told colleagues that his abductors had hung him up in a manner similar to a crucifixion before eventually taking him down, throwing him into a car, and dumping him in the countryside.

Bulatov, blood caked on his face and head, spoke to journalists on the night of January 30.

"I was crucified," he said.

"My hands were pierced. They cut my ear. They cut my face. There is no spot on my body that is not injured. You can see yourself. But I am alive, thank God."

Bulatov said that, after he was abandoned in freezing temperatures on the night of January 30, he managed to walk to a nearby village where he telephoned friends who took him back to Kiev.

Serhiy Poyarkov, an artist, Automaidan activist, and friend of Dmytro Bulatov, spoke early on January 31 to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service outside the hospital in Kiev where Bulatov was admitted and provided more details of his condition.

"He [Bulatov] has no fractures, no concussion," he said.

"He was cut, severely beaten, and humiliated. He was kept without food for the last few days. [His captors] wanted to know where our funding was coming from. He was tortured for a long time. They wanted to know who is financing us. He recognized all of us. He has bruises on his shoulders. His ear and [part] of his cheek were cut. His hands and feet were nailed. He was crucified and tortured all these days."

Bulatov went missing one day after another abducted opposition sympathizer, Yuriy Verbytsky, was found dead in a forest near Kiev on January 22 with broken ribs and traces of duct tape on his hands and clothes.

Verbytsky had gone missing on January 21 together with his friend Ihor Lutsenko, an opposition journalist and a key figure in the two-month-old Euromaidan protests. 

Lutsenko resurfaced the next day with a black eye and a knocked-out front tooth -- saying that he and Verbytsky had been abducted by a gang of unknown men before being beaten and left to die in the countryside.

Bulatov's protest group, Automaidan, comprises motorists who joined together in late November to support Ukraine's European integration and to counter police assaults against pro-EU demonstrators in their standoff with President Viktor Yanukovych and his political allies.

The popularity of the 5,000-member group and the rapid-response network it has set up to rescue demonstrators from police violence have propelled Automaidan to the forefront of Kiev's ongoing protests.

Automaidan activists routinely meet with opposition leaders, address protesters on Kiev's Independence Square, and have held talks with U.S. and European envoys. 

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine Leader Slams Opposition After Taking Sick Leave

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday savaged the opposition for inflaming tensions in Ukraine's crisis after he unexpectedly went on sick leave with no end in sight to the turmoil.

Women appeal to Ukrainian police troops not to shoot at their children, at the site of clashes with anti-government protesters in Kiev, January 30, 2014.

Yanukovych turned on the "irresponsible" opposition which has refused to abandon more than two months of protests despite a string of concessions, including an amnesty for jailed demonstrators.

The street rallies first erupted when the president backed out of a key pact with the European Union in November in favour of closer ties with Moscow, but the unrest has since spiralled into an all-out uprising for the president's removal.

In the latest twist to the saga, Yanukovych's office on Thursday announced the leader had fallen ill with an "acute respiratory infection".

The president's sick leave came after a fraught parliament session on Wednesday night where he had to personally intervene to prevent a possibly decisive schism in his ruling Regions Party.

The upheaval has raised fears of a new point of discord between Russia and the West, with Russian President Vladimir Putin urging the European Union not to meddle but Western states hugely critical of Yanukovych's rule.

Ukraine's first post-independence president Leonid Kravchuk on Wednesday warned that the country was "on the brink of civil war".

Thousands of protesters were on Thursday still occupying much of Kiev's city centre, including radical activists in balaclavas who patrolled the barricades carrying crowbars.

Clashes between protesters and security forces last week left three activists shot dead and turned parts of the capital into a battlefield, in the country's worst unrest since its independence in 1991.

Hours after his sick leave was announced, Yanukovych issued a defiant statement accusing the opposition of behaving irresponsibly by not calling off the protests.

"The opposition is continuing to inflame the situation and is calling on people to stand in the freezing cold due to the political ambitions of several leaders," he said in a statement on the presidential website. 

He said the opposition was making "ill-considered and irresponsible announcements, thinking about their own ratings more than the life and health of people."

But in a rare show of contrition, Yanukovych also admitted he needed to take more account of the country's mood.

"From my side, I will show more understanding for the demands and ambitions of people, taking into account the mistakes that authorities always make."

Yanukovych has already granted several concessions to the protesters, including accepting the resignations of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the entire cabinet, as well as allowing the annulment of tough anti-protest laws.

Ukraine's parliament, with backing from the ruling Regions Party, late on Wednesday passed a bill that would offer an amnesty to arrested protesters.

But the opposition defiantly refused to take part in the vote because the amnesty is conditional on protesters leaving occupied streets and buildings 15 days after it comes into force.

According to prosecutors, four people have died and 234 people have been arrested across Ukraine in the protests.

The amnesty would apply to all those detained save those accused of grave crimes. 

Facing a rebellion within the Regions Party where some 40 MPs had threatened to side with the opposition, Yanukovych had visited parliament late Wednesday in a bid to bring them back into line.

Reportedly threatening early elections and swearing liberally, Yanukovych's intervention ensured that the law was adopted by the majority.

But the three main party leaders -- Svoboda (Freedom) party leader Oleg Tyagnybok, UDAR (Punch) party leader and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko as well as Fatherland party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- condemned his move as violating the constitution.

"Through blackmail and intimidation, he compelled his party, which is on the verge of splitting, to return to the chamber and adopt the law despite not having enough votes," they said.

Russia watches, Ukraine economy fragile 

Following complaints from Ukrainian companies, the Russian customs service was on Thursday forced to deny claims that Moscow had introduced tighter border checks, a tried-and-tested method of pressuring Kiev in the past.

The Federation of Employers of Ukraine, a lobby group, said on Wednesday that Russian customs had introduced "rigorous" checks on Ukrainian-made foodstuffs, machinery, metals and trading equipment.

Ukraine remains mired in deep economic trouble and has accepted a $15-billion bailout from Moscow, though Russia this week warned that further payments will only be released when a new government is named.

Ukraine saw zero growth last year after nine months of economic declines were followed by a strong fourth quarter, the statistics committee said on Thursday. 

Source: AFP

Ukraine's Yanukovych Takes Sick Leave As Opposition Refuses To Abandon Protests

KIEV, Ukraine -- As thousands of demonstrators continued to occupy central Kiev despite all his concessions, President Viktor Yanukovych said that he was temporarily retreating from the scene.

Protesters, some from right-wing groups, sing the national anthem in the city centre of Kiev.

The 63-year-old was “officially registered as sick” with a “high temperature”, said an official statement on Thursday.

It was unclear when he would return to his desk.

As a parting shot, the president released a written address, declaring that his government had done all it could to end the demonstrations and “fulfilled all its obligations”.

Mr Yanukovych added:

“However, the opposition continues to escalate the situation and urges people to stand in a frost for the sake of political ambitions of several leaders. I think that it is wrong. We must understand that there is no future for the state and people if political interests of certain groups are set higher than the existence of Ukraine itself.”

Critics suspect that Mr Yanukovych’s illness is a device to relieve him of any further meetings with the opposition.

His latest concession was an amnesty for the protesters, which Parliament passed on Wednesday.

By insisting that he has kept every obligation, the president’s statement suggested that he would not retreat any further.

But the demonstrators in Independence Square are determined to continue until he resigns.

”The end of the protests will be when Yanukovych leaves because his hands are bloody now,” said one 19-year-old who gave his name as Yaroslav.

“Look around, look at what is going on in our country. All the people are here because of a corrupted system which does not do anything for the people, but everything for Yanukovych and his team.”

On Wednesday EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after meeting Mr Yanukovych that it was time for "real dialogue" to start and for "the violence and intimidation" to stop.

In a move that is likely to complicate matters further, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would wait until a new government is formed in Ukraine before it considers releasing a crucial $15 billion bailout package for Kiev in full.

Analysts say the Kremlin may back out of the deal if it saw a staunchly anti-Russian government come to power in Ukraine, and the EU may end up having to bail out the former Soviet nation.

Three activists were shot dead in clashes in Kiev last week, but tensions have calmed somewhat since negotiations between the government and the opposition gained traction.

However, there still appears to be no easy way out of a crisis which will influence the future orientation of the nation of 46 million people sandwiched between Russia and the EU.

Mr Putin on Wednesday discussed the crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said, stressing that "any outside interference is unacceptable."

Mrs Merkel for her part told Putin to push for a "constructive dialogue" to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, her office said.

Protesters, some from right-wing groups, remained camped out in much of the city centre of Kiev and have now erected wooden watchtowers at their barricades.

They are still occupying key municipal buildings including the Kiev city hall.

Underlining the gravity of the crisis, Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first post-independence president, on Wednesday warned that the country was "on the brink of civil war".

"It is a revolution. It is a dramatic situation in which we must act with the greatest responsibility," said Mr Kravchuk, who was president from 1991 to 1994.

The opposition did not vote for the amnesty bill as it is unhappy that the law is conditional on protestors vacating buildings they have occupied in Kiev.

The majority Regions Party backed the law after a rare closed-door meeting at parliament with Mr Yanukovych, who reportedly threatened early parliamentary elections if they did not support it.

A total of 232 deputies voted for the bill and 11 against, but 173 MPs present in the parliament did not vote.

The amnesty will only be enforced after the Prosecutor-General confirms protesters have left all government buildings across the country.

Svoboda (Freedom) party leader Oleg Tyagnybok said that parliament had essentially adopted a law about "hostages" as the dozens arrested during the crisis would now be held until buildings are freed.

"The authorities have now admitted they take hostages like terrorists do, so that they can then barter over them," he was quoted as saying.

"Don't believe that the opposition will give up the Maidan," he said, referring to Kiev's Independence Square at the heart of the protests.

The UDAR (Punch) party leader and world boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko warned:

"Instead of lowering the temperature in society, this is going to raise it."

Dozens of activists have been arrested since clashes broke out January 19, both in Kiev and in the provinces, where activists have stormed regional administration buildings.

Mr Azarov and his entire government resigned on Tuesday after weeks of protests that began when Mr Yanukovych pulled out of a key EU deal in favour of closer ties with Moscow in November.

In the biggest concessions to the opposition so far, parliament on Tuesday also scrapped anti-protest laws which had ignited the current upsurge in tensions when they were passed by parliament on January 16.

Source: The Telegraph

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Exclusive: U.S. Readies Financial Sanctions Against Ukraine: Congressional Aides

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Obama administration is preparing financial sanctions that could be imposed on Ukrainian officials and protest leaders if violence escalates in the political crisis gripping Ukraine, congressional aides said on Wednesday.

Members of various anti-government paramilitary groups gather at Independence Square during a show of force in Kiev, January 29, 2014.

Congressional aides, who asked not to be identified by name because of the sensitive subject, said they had discussed the sanction preparations with administration officials.

They said final details of the package have not been worked out, but it could be put in place quickly against government officials - or leaders of the protest movement - in case of widespread violence.

Six people have been killed in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities in protests that erupted more than two months ago after President Viktor Yanukovich walked away from a treaty with the European Union under pressure from Russia.

Alarmed by the crisis, Washington has revoked the visas of some Ukrainian officials. 

President Barack Obama referred to Ukraine in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, voicing support for the principle that all people have the right to free expression.

Vice President Joe Biden has spoken to Yanukovich at least three times.

And two U.S. senators, Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, traveled to Kiev last month and addressed demonstrations. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday passed a resolution calling on all sides in the confrontation to refrain from violence and work toward a peaceful resolution.

"The situation in Ukraine remains very volatile and more needs to be done," said Representative Eliot Engel, the New York Democrat who sponsored the resolution.

"We must remain engaged."

However, U.S. lawmakers and Obama administration officials said they were encouraged by recent developments, including the Ukrainian parliament's vote to repeal anti-protest laws.

"We were encouraged that Ukraine's parliament repealed the most egregious of the most anti-democratic laws.

Today we want to urge President Yanukovich to sign the repeal laws," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.

She told reporters the State Department has been willing to consider sanctions but no decision has been made.

Alarm has grown elsewhere in the West.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yanukovich on Wednesday, urging a constructive dialogue between the government and opposition.

Putin raised the pressure on Ukraine on Wednesday, saying Russia would wait until Ukraine forms a new government before fully implementing a $15 billion bailout deal that Kiev urgently needs.

Source: Yahoo News

Russia Defers Aid To Ukraine, And Unrest Persists

KIEV, Ukraine -- A former Ukrainian president warned on Wednesday that the country is now on “the brink of civil war,” and Russia added to the gloom by announcing the suspension of its financial aid package, which was all that had been keeping Ukraine solvent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference after an EU-Russia Summit in Brussels Wednesday. 

Leonid M. Kravchuk, Ukraine’s president from 1991 to 1994, issued his warning while offering his services to Parliament in mediating negotiations between the government and opposition leaders on overhauling the Constitution to weaken the power of President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

But Parliament halted work for the evening without voting on the constitutional change or another measure to assuage tension.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had told European Union leaders at a summit meeting Tuesday in Brussels that his government intended to fulfill its financial aid commitments to Ukraine in spite of negotiations here that could put a pro-Western government in power.

Mr. Putin said the $15 billion aid package was for the Ukrainian “people.”

But that stance was reversed at a cabinet meeting in Moscow on Wednesday, where Mr. Putin brought up the subject of the aid, saying, “I ask the government to carry out these agreements in full.”

But his prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, suggested that it would be reasonable to fulfill the agreements “only when we know what economic policies the new government will implement, who will be working there, and what rules they will follow.” 

Mr. Putin quickly agreed, saying, “That’s reasonable.”

A report by the Itar-Tass news agency said this indicated a decision to halt the aid, meaning Ukraine would not receive a $2 billion payment expected by Friday. 

Political commentators said there were other signs that Russia was raising the economic pressure on Ukraine, seemingly to discourage Mr. Yanukovych from compromising with the opposition.

Echoing statements made in 2006 and 2009 before shipments of natural gas to Ukraine were stopped, a deputy director of Gazprom, the state-owned natural gas export monopoly, said Ukraine had failed to make payments on a $2.7 billion debt. 

Russian customs officials began heightened checks on trucks crossing the border from Ukraine, and an association of Ukrainian truckers told members to expect delays of 10 to 15 working days.

Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, on Tuesday downgraded Ukraine’s sovereign debt, citing political uncertainty and the prospect that the protests would succeed in installing a pro-Western government, resulting in a probable cancellation of the Russian financing that was suspended Wednesday.

Without Russian aid or a Western substitute, Ukraine will be forced to default on its debt or devalue its currency, the hryvnia.

After five people were wounded on Wednesday in fighting between two factions of antigovernment protesters inside one of the city’s occupied government buildings, protest organizers announced the formation of an umbrella command for street bands, to be called a National Guard.

The scuffle came as the opposition’s more moderate political leadership faced pressure to demonstrate greater control on the streets, in exchange for concessions from the government.

Parliament on Wednesday passed an amnesty bill covering protesters arrested in clashes with the police that will take effect only after protesters leave occupied administrative buildings.

Members of the nationalist party Svoboda fought to eject activists from a group called Common Cause from the main building of the Agriculture Ministry, then both factions left the building, allowing the police to again guard the upper floors.

The move appeared to represent a concession from the opposition, after Ukraine’s prime minister, Mykola Azarov, resigned on Tuesday.

The fighting among protesters inside, though, had been intense.

It involved so-called traumatic guns, or nonlethal pistols firing rubber bullets.

Afterward, the stairs were slicked with water from the building’s firefighting system, apparently also used in the melee, and broken glass and furniture littered the halls. 

Protesters for weeks had suspected that the government was using location data from cellphones near the demonstration to pinpoint people for political profiling, and they received alarming confirmation when a court formally ordered a telephone company to hand over such data.

Earlier this month, protesters at a clash with riot police officers received text messages on their phones saying they had been “registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

Then, three cellphone companies — Kyivstar, MTS and Life — denied that they had provided the location data to the government or had sent the text messages.

Kyivstar suggested that it was instead the work of a “pirate” cellphone tower set up in the area.

In a ruling made public on Wednesday, a city court ordered Kyivstar to disclose to the police which cellphones were turned on during an antigovernment protest outside the courthouse on Jan. 10.

The order applied only to this one site on one day, and did not cover the area of the main protest, Independence Square, where sometimes more than 100,000 people have shown up, most presumably carrying cellphones whose location there could identify them as political opponents of the government.

Source: The New York Times

Protesters Stand Firm In Ukraine, Expand Their Demands

KIEV, Ukraine -- Anti-government demonstrators who have paralyzed the capital for weeks said Wednesday that despite key concessions already made by President Viktor Yanukovych, they want more — a complete change in their system.

A protester guards the barricades in front of riot police in Kiev, Ukraine. The text reads “War to palaces, peace to home.” Ukraine's parliament is considering measures to grant amnesty to those arrested during weeks of protests in the crisis-torn country, but possibly with conditions attached that would be unacceptable to the opposition.

"We need to change the parliament, and then re-elect the president," said Lilia Kirikova, a designer from Kiev who has been at the protests in the center of the city regularly since they broke out in November.

"But the election must happen after we return to the Constitution we had in 2004," she added, referring to 2010 reforms giving the president more power over parliament.

"The interior minister and the riot police must be punished for their violent actions." 

The protests began in late November after the president dismissed a trade deal with the European Union and instead set a course for closer ties with Russia.

Initially the demands by protesters centered on closer ties with Europe.

But after numerous clashes with police and a refusal to back down, protesters have expanded their demands beyond amnesty for demonstrators.

They are now demanding a change in the constitution to give more powers to parliament over the president and a full change in the regime.

Lawmakers have given in to the demand that they repeal the anti-protest laws that sparked an escalation of street protests last week.

That escalation resulted in five protester deaths.

Also, the prime minister and the Cabinet resigned, but not the president.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian parliament voted to give amnesty to protesters if they vacate occupied government buildings.

As of now protesters hold one city hall and an agricultural ministry in Kiev, a number of governor's offices in the western regions of the country and several non-governmental buildings in central Kiev.

Despite the concessions, protesters say they won't go.

"At first, we would have been satisfied with as much as a promise from the government to drop the push toward Russia and a promise to sign the deal with EU," said Svyatoslav Grysiuk, a middle-aged protester from Kiev.

"But (now), mostly because of the actions of the government itself — the violence — everyone in the government has to leave.

The amnesty law is good, but it is far from enough — it would mean the protest had no actual result.

"I don't think people here will agree to stop the protest for the amnesty," he said. 

Kirikova, who was wearing a now-common protest symbol, a ribbon in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on her down coat, says the buildings serve a purpose.

"In a weather like this, it will be impossible to stay out here without having the buildings (to warm up in)," she said.

"Maybe the protesters should give up one building at a time, one for each fulfilled demand."

She says that while many protesters hope for help from the West, the only way for foreign nations to influence the situation is to implement financial sanctions against officials that would impact their bank accounts and businesses abroad.

Now the U.S. and EU act "as they do in the normal countries, and expect it to work in Ukraine," Kirikova said.

Source: USA Today

Amid Ukraine Protests, Some Defect From Government

KIEV, Ukraine -- For several years, Ihor Medelyan worked for a government he didn't support. He endured his job at a state-owned Ukrainian TV channel only because he loved being a journalist and had a family to feed.

Ukraine's ex-consul-general in Istanbul, Bohdan Yaremenko (C).

But Medelyan just couldn't accept his employer's stance after a police crackdown on anti-government protesters two months ago that was so brutal it stained pavements red with blood.

First National Channel, a government mouthpiece, blamed protesters for provoking police, which contradicted the version of countless witnesses.

"There came a moment when I said: 'My family, please forgive me, but I must do it. I just must quit and leave it all behind me,'''said Medelyan, 32, as he stood in front of tall barricades near government buildings where protesters and police have clashed. 

While there aren't any official figures to give a sense of how widespread the phenomenon is, Medelyan isn't alone.

Throughout the protesters' camps, there are stories of Ukrainians who have left their state jobs or publicly condemned the government after scores of protesters were beaten or kidnapped, and at least three died in vicious street fighting.

Four journalists have left First National Channel since the protests began, Medelyan said.

Far away from Kiev, Ukraine's consul-general in Istanbul, Bohdan Yaremenko, saw news of the beatings and put up a Facebook post accusing the government of being "fascists."

He was soon pulled back to Kiev.

"Police beating people in the streets of Kiev was a point of no return for me," said Yaremenko, who joined the anti-government protest in Kiev together with his wife and two children when they returned.

"I don't want to (be associated) with such an oppressive system," he said.

"I don't want to be a part of it. I don't want to be responsible for it."

"Because I have my family living here, they are also protesting right now. I don't want them to be killed just for expressing their view."

Yaremenko, a 20-year career diplomat, says he will not return to work at the Foreign Ministry under the current government and is working to start a civic group to promote Ukraine abroad.

So far, there have been too few defections to cause President Viktor Yanukvoych's government to crumble.

He still controls parliament and the feared security forces.

That makes the defections all the more commendable in the eyes of protesters, because many of those who spoke out are now jobless and fear government retaliation.

Although the defectors have been relatively few, abandoning comfortable jobs underlines growing discontent with Yanukovych's rule.

Over the past few days, demonstrations have spread from Kiev to other parts of the country, even arising in eastern Ukraine, which has been Yanukovych's loyal political base.

Anger grew last week after a video posted online showed riot police abusing and humiliating a protester, who was stripped naked in the bitter cold, near the barricades in Kiev.

He was punched and forced to pose for photos.

In the western city of Lviv, where support for Yanukovych is minuscule, a riot policeman saw the video, packed his belongings and walked out on a 20-year career. 

"I became ashamed to tell people that I work in the special division," said the man, who gave his name only as Yaroslav because he feared repercussions.

"If you think that your job is to beat innocent people, then I think that's not the kind of job someone can earn their living with."

Volodymyr Lulko, a judge at the district court in the town of Tulchin, showed up at the regional council's office, occupied by protesters, and announced he was laying down his mantle.

"When I began working as a judge, I was proud," the 38-year-old Lulko said by telephone.

"But when all those illegal actions began on the part of officials, law enforcement bodies and judges ... I made the decision that it would be shameful for me to work in that system. Simply shameful."

Some of the walk-outs were met with skepticism.

For years, Inna Bohoslovska was one of the most prominent members of Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

She was a popular guest on prime-time TV talk shows, where she gestured emotionally, shouted at opposition figures and once even burst into tears defending the government.

But she quit the party after the student rally breakup in November and soon showed up at demonstrations, urging eastern Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych is still strong, to defy him and take to the streets.

"How much longer are you going to be asleep?" she shouted from a giant stage.

Some protesters, however, took her gesture with a grain of salt, suspecting she may not have experienced a genuine change of heart, but was rather jumping from a sinking ship before it was too late.

During a recent talk show, Bohoslovska accused her former Party of Regions colleagues "of stuffing your pockets" with government money during the three years of Yanukovyvch's presidency.

Her opponent, Party of Regions lawmaker Oleg Tsaryov, laughed off her tirade.

"So we stole and you didn't?"

Medelyan, meanwhile, has found a new job as a reporter for a media freedom watchdog.

As protesters behind him filled giant white bags with crushed ice to fortify barricades, he reflected on his decision.

"There is a line. Either you tread close to it and slowly move away or you cross that line," Medelyan said.

Source: ABC News

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ex-President Warns Ukraine 'On Brink Of Civil War'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's first post-independence president has warned the country is on the "brink of civil war" as parliament debates an amnesty for protesters.

Leonid Kravchuk has urged both sides to find a compromise solution to end the crisis.

Leonid Kravchuk, president from 1991 to 1994, opened the debate in parliament by urging everyone involved to "act with the greatest responsibility".

President Viktor Yanukovych wants any amnesty to be conditional on protesters leaving official buildings - a proposal rejected by the opposition.

They want Mr Yanukovych to resign.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters - many wearing helmets and carrying baseball bats and other makeshift weapons - have taken to the streets in Kiev again, a BBC correspondent in the city reports.

They won significant concessions on Tuesday after parliament scrapped a controversial anti-protest law and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned.


Leonid Kravchuk told MPs that "all the world acknowledges and Ukraine acknowledges that the state is on the brink of civil war".

"It is a revolution. It is a dramatic situation in which we must act with the greatest responsibility," he said in an emotional address that earned him a standing ovation. 

"We need to ease the confrontation between the sides and agree a plan to solve the conflict. We need to work on this plan step by step to ease the confrontation."

To underline the importance of the session, former presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko were also present.

Parliament is considering an amnesty for the scores of protesters who have been detained since demonstrations began in November.

Adjourning the session for a break, speaker Volodymyr Rybak admitted there were "several unresolved issues" but said discussions between the two sides would continue.

In an emergency debate on Tuesday, MPs voted to repeal anti-protest legislation, which among other measures banned the wearing of helmets by protesters and the blockading of public buildings.

The anti-protest law, passed less than two weeks earlier, fuelled major protests around the country and deadly clashes with the police.

Prime Minister Azarov said on Tuesday he was stepping down to create "social and political compromise".

He has been replaced on an interim basis by his deputy, Serhiy Arbuzov. 

Correspondents say Mr Azarov was deeply unpopular with the opposition, who accused him of mismanaging the economy and failing to tackle corruption.

Members of Mr Azarov's cabinet also resigned, but they can remain in their posts for 60 days until a new government is formed.

Foreign 'interference' 

Both US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have underlined their support for the demonstrators.

Mrs Merkel told the German parliament the demonstrators are "fighting for the same values that also guide us, the European Union, and that is why they need to be listened to."

Mr Obama, in his State of the Union address, said:

"In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country's future."

The White House on Tuesday said Vice-President Joe Biden had spoken by telephone to President Yanukovych and praised the "progress made".

Meanwhile, both the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele have arrived in Kiev for talks with the leadership.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday criticised what he called foreign "interference" in Ukraine, saying:

"I think that the Ukrainian people are capable of solving this on their own."

"I can only imagine how our European partners would respond if in the heat of a crisis in a country like Greece or Cyprus, our foreign minister would appear at one of their anti-European rallies and begin addressing them," he said at the end of an EU-Russia summit in Brussels.

Protests have spread in recent days across Ukraine - even to President Yanukovych's stronghold in the east - and official buildings in several cities have been occupied.

At least five people have been killed in violence linked to the protests.

Mr Yanukovych was democratically elected in 2010 and appeared to be steering the former Soviet state towards EU integration until he rejected a planned trade deal with the bloc just days before it was due to be signed last November.

His decision to favour instead a $15bn (£9bn) bailout from Russia to bolster the ailing public finances angered many EU supporters in Ukraine.

Ukraine unrest - key dates 

  • 21 Nov 2013: Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU 
  • 30 Nov: Riot police detain dozens of anti-government protesters in a violent crackdown in Kiev 
  • 17 Dec: Russia agrees to buy $15bn of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country 
  • 16 Jan 2014: Parliament passes law restricting the right to protest 
  • 22 Jan: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kiev; protests spread across many cities 
  • 25 Jan: President Yanukovych offers senior jobs to the opposition, including that of prime minister, but these are rejected 
  • 28 Jan: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts resignation of PM and cabinet 
 Source: BBC News

Ukraine’s Uncertainties Include Financial Aid

KIEV, Ukraine -- As Ukraine’s political crisis has deepened, an economic question looms: Will Russia continue to bail out the country if it again tilts to the West?

A protester waved the Ukrainian flag in Kiev on Tuesday. The country's political upheaval could quickly turn into an economic crisis.

After months of protests, and the resignation Tuesday of the country’s prime minister, the opposition in Ukraine appears closer than ever to achieving its goals, chief among them compelling the government to reject trade and aid deals with Russia and to turn to the European Union instead.

But that political victory might quickly turn into an economic crisis.

Even if Ukraine once again looks westward, there is no financial package ready to replace the Russian aid the Kremlin began offering in December.

Without foreign assistance, Ukraine is all but certain to either default on its debt or devalue its currency.

Russia in December provided $3 billion of a total aid package of $15 billion.

It is scheduled to disburse an additional $2 billion by Friday.

By the end of the week, it will become clear whether Russia will follow through with the second strand of the financial lifeline to the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, despite his decision to open reconciliation talks with the pro-Western opposition and his loss of control over regional governments.

The resignation Tuesday of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who had been a staunch ally of Mr. Yanukovych, adds to the uncertainties.

In response to a written query, the Russian Ministry of Finance’s news service declined to comment on its intentions.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russians decide to delay, at least pending the outcome of negotiations,” Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at Otkritie Financial Corporation in Moscow, said by telephone.

“When you buy government bonds, you want to be sure you are buying the bonds of a government you have friendly relations with,” he said of the Russian aid, which has been structured as purchases of Ukrainian bonds at below-market rates.

“It would be amazing if the Russians decided to put money on the table now, given all that is going on.”

Opposition activists wearing ski masks last week occupied the main Ministry of Agriculture building and briefly took over the main Ministry of Justice building before retreating, but only because the ministry said that the occupation was interfering with negotiations over changing the constitution to weaken the power of the president.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Finance issued a statement on Monday saying that it was preparing to issue the bonds as scheduled, but gave no indication whether the Russians had promised to purchase them as agreed.

Ukraine is burdened with large budget and current-account deficits and the central bank is quickly depleting its gold and foreign currency reserves.

Ukraine’s recessionary economy has hung as a grim backdrop to the recent street protests.

The country’s 2014 budget, approved by a show of hands in Parliament this month as the opposition blocked the electronic voting system, includes a deficit equivalent to 4.3 percent of gross domestic product.

The Russian money and a reduction in natural gas prices charged by the Russian company Gazprom are subsidizing that spending gap and propping up the national currency, the hryvnia, and staving off default on the government’s debt.

In light of the recent violence here, pressure resumed this week on the hryvnia, which the market now values at far less than the central bank’s declared rate of 8 to the United States dollar; it was trading on the Ukrainian interbank market at 8.7 to the dollar early this week, but had not gone into free fall.

“Anybody looking around and seeing what is going on in the streets could decide to sell hryvnia and buy dollars,” Ivan Tchakarov, the chief economist at Citibank covering former Soviet states, said of the risk of panic-selling of the national currency, a problem that is not unheard-of in the region.

In Kiev on Tuesday, customers went from bank to bank, looking for scarce dollars.

A teller at a branch of UniCredit said the bank was selling only dollars that had been sold to the bank earlier in the day by other customers and at times had only a few hundred dollars in cash on hand.

UniCredit closed four branches in Kiev last Wednesday because of the street violence.

The Ukrainian stock market, not surprisingly, has taken a downward turn.

The Ukraine Exchange index has fallen more than 70 percent in the last three years, and 8.9 percent of that decline came in the last week, as violence gripped the capital. 

Mr. Azarov’s government, which will continue working in an acting capacity after his resignation Tuesday, had been striving to pass as much of the Russian money on to public sector workers and pensioners as quickly as possible, to soothe tempers, in spite of the dysfunction of the largely paralyzed government.

In the 2014 budget, the minimum monthly wage went up 6 percent to 971 hryvnia ($114) and the personal income tax was lowered by a percentage point, to 17 percent.

Those measures were possible only because of the Russian aid, Mr. Tchakarov of Citibank said.

As Ukraine’s political crisis remained unsettled at the time of the Russian deal, the Russians had taken precautions, lest they end up financing a pro-Western government.

The bond purchases come in multiple installments and the natural gas contract with Gazprom is subject to quarterly review.

Over the weekend, Mr. Yanukovych offered to dismiss the cabinet and install two opposition leaders in senior positions, along with other concessions.

But the protesters rebuffed the proposal, and the prime minister’s resignation, as insufficient.

Negotiations are continuing.

In an interview in December, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Fatherland Party who was offered but declined the position of prime minister, said Western ambassadors had offered assurances that the International Monetary Fund would move quickly on aid if Ukraine signed a trade deal with the European Union.

But no such agreement is in place now.

Officials of the International Monetary Fund, in Washington, did not immediately reply on Tuesday to a request for comment.

The “authorities have yet to clarify their intentions regarding discussions on a possible fund-supported program,” William Murray, an I.M.F. spokesman, said at a news briefing last week.

“We, as an institution, remain ready to work with the Ukrainians on a plan once it’s brought to us.”

A Polish member of the European Parliament, Pawel Kowal, published an article Monday in the newspaper Rzeczpospolita calling for something like a Marshall Plan of immediate Western aid for Ukraine, should the protest leaders succeed in gaining power.

Mass protests continued to spread across the country, including new attempts to seize regional administration buildings in eastern and southern Ukraine, areas that are typically strongholds of support for Mr. Yanukovych and his pro-Russian policies.

Its unpopularity with the protesters aside, the Russian aid has effectively stabilized the bond market.

Bond yields, a measure of the government’s cost of borrowing, had risen above 10.5 percent in the autumn.

But they fell to 7.8 percent after the Russian aid was announced.

Even that would not be a sustainable cost for Ukraine to bear in the long term.

But it was a boon to investors including Franklin Templeton, the California-based money management giant that is one of the largest underwriters of the Ukrainian government.

At one point the firm owned about a fifth of the outstanding bonds, with a face value of $5 billion.

Franklin Templeton has declined to comment on its position in Ukraine.

As the protests radicalized over the last week, with demonstrators burning tires and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police, the yield rose again to 9.2 percent Tuesday — still below the 10.5 percent peak rate investors had demanded before the announcement of the Russian deal.

Source: The New York Times

Vladimir Putin Tells Brussels To Stay Out Of Ukraine's Political Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Vladmir Putin warned Europe to keep its hands off Ukraine on Tuesday, as Brussels sent its top foreign policy envoy to Kiev to try to mediate in the 10-week stand-off between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on the streets.

Vladimir Putin speaking in Brussels: it was the Russian president's first meeting with EU leaders since they clashed last November over the future of Ukraine.

Russia's intervention in Brussels followed Yanukovych's biggest concession to the opposition, the sacking of his hardline prime minister and government and a promise to repeal draconian laws criminalising protest and freedom of speech.

Putin met EU leaders for the first time since November's clash between the Kremlin and Europe over the future of Ukraine triggered the crisis in Kiev.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, took part in the meetings with Putin in Brussels then travelled to Kiev to try to mediate between the opposing sides.

"The more intermediaries there are, the more problems there are," Putin said.

"I am not sure Ukraine needs intermediaries."

He pointedly noted that European leaders would complain if Russia sent envoys to mediate in the Greek crisis of the past four years.

"I can only imagine what the reaction would be if in the heat of the crisis in Greece or Cyprus, our foreign minister came to an anti-European rally and began urging people to do something.

This would not be good," Putin said.

"I'm sure the Ukrainian people will sort this out and Russia is not going to interfere." 

The president of the European council, Herman Van Rompuy, insisted Lady Ashton would seek to reconcile the two sides in Kiev on the basis of "democratic rules" and aim to prevent an escalation of violence.

Earlier, in what appeared a significant concession to the opposition, Yanukovych fired his hardline prime minister, Mykola Azarov, and his government.

It remains to be seen whether the pro-Russian president would seek to include opposition figures in a new government and whether the opposition would agree.

The central demand from the protesters is Yanukovych's resignation and early presidential elections.

Yanukovych also caved in to pressure from the opposition, Europe and the US by promising to scrap repressive legislation passed a fortnight ago curbing freedom of speech and assembly.

The moves came after four rounds of talks between the embattled president and three opposition leaders.

The laws severely curtailed freedom of assembly, with critics suggesting they in effect ushered in a dictatorship.

"We revoked the laws against which all the country has revolted," Arseniy Yatseniuk, a prominent opposition leader, said after the parliamentary vote.

He called on Yanukovych to immediately sign the repeal of the legislation into law. 

The street revolt against Yanukovych erupted in November after he reneged on free trade and political integration pacts with the EU, turning to Moscow which offered him $15bn (£11bn) in loans and reduced energy prices.

While Van Rompuy and the EU commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, stressed yesterday there was no contradiction between Ukraine's agreements with Brussels and Moscow, Putin made plain that his deal with Yanukovych was incompatible with Kiev's signing up to the EU's offers.

"We would most likely fail to maintain the preferential agreements with Ukraine if it signs the [EU] association agreement," he said.

He added that Moscow's deal with Kiev did not depend on the shape of the new government to be formed, but stressed that the Kremlin would need to make sure it would be able to recoup the loans.

"We can't pretend that everything's all right when it's not allright," said Barroso.

The Russians and the Europeans agreed to set up a working group of experts to discuss the detail of the agreements being offered to Kiev by Brussels.

That appeared to be a concession to Moscow since it was an early demand by Yanukovych rejected by the EU in November.

Azarov, who has described protesters as "terrorists", had offered his resignation.

He said he hoped the move would help achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis that has gripped the country for more than two months.

"The conflict situation which has come about in the country is threatening the economic and social development of Ukraine, creating a threat to the whole of Ukrainian society and to each citizen," he said.

The opposition responded cautiously, saying it was unclear who would replace him. 

A former Ukrainian foreign ministry official said the Kremlin was exerting huge pressure on Yanukovych behind the scenes, urging him to deal more harshly with anti-government protesters.

"Ukraine is out of money. If Russia stops financing Yanukovych, he will be unable to pay his loyal supporters," the official said.

It was Yanukovych's decision to accept Russian money – and to reject a partnership agreement with the European Union – that first prompted massive pro-European street demonstrations two months ago.

Radical groups have since joined the protests, which have resulted in violent clashes, at least four civilians killed and parts of central Kiev transformed into a battle zone.

Dozens of activists have been arrested and several prominent leaders have disappeared.

Over the weekend the government mooted the idea of imposing a state of emergency.

On Tuesday, opposition leaders said they would not abandon their uprising until their main demands were met.

The demands include Yanukovych's resignation, fresh presidential elections, and an amnesty for those rounded up by police in street protests.

"It's not a victory. It's just a step towards victory," Vitali Klitschko, leader of the UDAR party and former world boxing champion, said of Azarov's resignation.

Klitschko also reaffirmed his wish not to work in a new cabinet.

Yatseniuk had earlier turned down an offer by Yanukovych to become prime minister.

"Under no circumstances will I ever agree to work in Yanukovych's government," Klitschko said, adding that a change of prime minister would not change the government system, which needed "to get a restart".

Pro-Yanukovych politicians did not support the sacking of Azarov, who has been head of the government since 2010 when Yanukovych took power.

"This will lead to additional destabilisation in the country," said Oleg Tsariov, of the ruling Party of Regions.

Parliament was due to vote late on Tuesday on an amnesty for hundreds of arrested protesters.

Yanukovych sought to tie the amnesty to opposition pledges that the protest would be called off.

It seems unlikely that the decisions would placate the tens of thousands of protesters and prompt them to leave the streets and destroy dozens of barricades that protect the Kiev protest camp, now known as Euromaidan (Eurosquare), from thousands of police.

"I'm sure our fight will go on," said Klitschko.

The leaders of four central European EU countries bordering Ukraine are to meet in Budapest on Wednesday to discuss the crisis.

Source: The Guardian

Ukraine Government Officials Barred From Canada

OTTAWA, Canada -- The Canadian government has announced it is barring senior Ukrainian officials from entering the country, in response to violent clashes between protesters and police in Kiev.

The federal government is looking to match skilled immigrants with unfilled jobs in a new online system of immigration, akin to a dating site, which it plans to launch in January 2015, says Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

"Effective immediately, we will restrict entry to Canada for key Ukrainian government officials that have been responsible for the oppression and silencing of opposition voices," Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Tuesday afternoon.

Alexander said the government was compelled to take action following "utterly deplorable" and "recent actions by members of Ukraine's ruling elite in the face of popular and growing protests."

"Canada continues to stand with the Ukrainian people as they defiantly and courageously speak out in support of freedom and democracy," Alexander said. 

Canada's decision comes as Ukraine's prime minister resigned Tuesday and the Ukrainian parliament voted to repeal its contentious anti-protest law. Alexander was accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird who warned Ukraine of further sanctions.

"I think this is an important step. We'll obviously continue to follow it and increase action if and when it is required," Baird said the Canadian government is monitoring the situation in Ukraine on an hour-by-hour basis.

"This is not a final step for Canada, this is just another process in our engagement and support of freedom and prosperity in Ukraine."

Baird said he had been in touch with Catherine Ashton, the European Union's representative responsible for foreign affairs and security policy, in the hour before Canada's announcement.

He said he would also be in touch with U.S. officials.

Liberal immigration critic John McCallum called today's move "meaningless." 

Instead, the Liberals are proposing the federal government freeze Ukrainian assets and fast-track the application of refugees from Ukraine to Canada.

"Canada should send a strong message," McCallum told CBC News in a telephone interview.

On Monday, members of parliament condemned the Ukrainian government for its actions following an emergency debate in the House of Commons.

Source: CBC News

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Put It To A Vote In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The best chance for a settlement of the conflict in Ukraine lies in a dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada, the country’s parliament, to be followed promptly by new elections for both parliament and the presidency.

Protesters man their makeshift barricade on Jan. 27, 2014, at the Vinnytsya state regional administration building near Kiev after they took control and set up command.

The protesters in Kiev, and across the country, have well-founded grievances, especially against the disproportionately pro-Russian policies of President Viktor Yanukovych.

But they are not in a position to overthrow the government.

The short-lived occupation of the Ministry of Justice on Sunday and Monday is far from being a promising precedent.

Anything resembling a civil war is neither desirable nor feasible.

The opposition are right to persist in their demonstrations – including a degree of civil disobedience against the preposterously sweeping law passed last week to suppress them.

It is encouraging that the protests are now spreading; they now include parts of the eastern and southern regions of the country, much of which is Russian-speaking and from which Mr. Yanukovych has long drawn support.

Ukraine is on a fault line between East and West.

Ideally, it needs good economic, political and cultural relations with both the European Union and Russia.

But at the same time, its best hope for the future lies in a closer alignment with the democratic, rule-of-law West, not the autocrats in Moscow.

Mr. Yanukovych’s abrupt tilt in the other direction is what sparked the protests.

A fresh election would be a good opportunity to settle the debate democratically, giving Ukrainians a chance to discuss and to decide where they want the balance to be struck.

The last election of the Verkhovna Rada was in October, 2012.

In the scheme of things, that now seems quite a long time ago.

Back in early December – soon after Mr. Yanukovych’s sudden rejection of a trade agreement with the EU – Serhiy Arbuzov, the First Deputy Prime Minister, said that new parliamentary and presidential elections were “absolutely” worth considering.

They’re an even better idea now.

Source: The Globe and Mail

MPs Debate Ukraine Violence In House Of Commons

OTTAWA, Canada -- Canadian MPs are holding an emergency debate on the crisis in Ukraine, where protests are being met by a violent response from the government.

An anti-government protester faces a line of riot police at the site of clashes in Kiev on Jan. 27. Police and demonstrators continue to clash in the Ukrainian capital a week after the latest round of violent protests began.

House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer ordered the debate, which will provide MPs the opportunity to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

All parties also came to an agreement on a motion condemning the Ukrainian government for its actions and an anti-protest law deemed by observers to be anti-democratic.

The all-party agreement on the motion prevented a figurative footrace between NDP MP Paul Dewar and Conservative MPs James Bezan and Ted Opitz, all of whom were seeking a debate.

The motion declared draconian a law adopted in Ukraine on Jan. 17 that severely limits the right of Ukrainians to peacefully protest.

It also condemned the killing and injuring of protesters in Ukraine and urged the Canadian government to consider sanctions against Ukrainian leaders.

The call for the consideration of sanctions echoes the language in the NDP motion and in a statement made by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Monday.

Trudeau said some Ukrainian officials have committed human rights abuses and crimes against their own citizenry.

“The Canadian government has an obligation to work with its allies and immediately apply pressure on the Ukrainian government to negotiate with the opposition," Trudeau said in a statement.

"This indefensible, state-sanctioned violence must be condemned and should end immediately. Unless real dialogue begins between the government and the opposition, we are likely to see more senseless deaths."

Harper addresses violence 

In question period Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to work with Ukrainian Canadians and Canada's allies to "encourage the government of Ukraine to move in a positive direction."

"This government has been very outspoken with many around the international community in condemning some of the actions of the Ukrainian government," Harper said, in response to a question from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

"We are very concerned that these actions speak of not moving towards a free and democratic Euro-Atlantic future, but an anti-democratic Soviet past.

"The government is signalling its strong desire to play a positive role and we encourage them in that regard," he said.

Battle lines in place 

Outside the House, Mulcair appeared to praise the government's efforts so far, and offered his party's support for more.

Mulcair suggested the conflict in Kiev represented a battle line that had been anticipated by some since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"We've always suspected there would come one case where the pull to the East and the pull to the West would come to one determining battle.

That is taking place in the streets of Ukraine right now," Mulcair said.

"Ukraine needs and deserves our support."

The Canadian government has demonstrated its concern over the Ukrainian situation by using more than just words.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was pictured in the middle of a throng of protesters in Kiev in December and just last week he promised his government was considering all options.

The government's religious freedom ambassador, Andrew Bennett, was dispatched to Ukraine and yesterday reported his concern for members of the minority Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Bennett also condemned the actions of the Ukrainian government.

“The new laws passed by President Viktor Yanukovych give the Ukrainian government, police and security services harsh new powers that severely limit individual rights and freedoms,” said Bennett.

“This is fundamentally inconsistent with democratic practice and of grave concern to all who are committed to a free and democratic Ukraine."

But in question period Monday, Liberal Deputy Leader Ralph Goodale urged the government to move "beyond general statements about considering options." 

Goodale suggested the government could send observers and offer expedited visas to protesters in urgent need of sanctuary from the abuses of the Ukrainian government. 

All-party motion 

"That this House: Condemns the draconian law that was adopted in Ukraine on Jan. 17, 2014, that severely limits the right of Ukrainians to peacefully organize, assemble or protest;

Recognizes that such a law undermines freedom and democracy in Ukraine; 

Condemns the Ukrainian government’s use of violence and threats of legal action against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for helping peaceful protesters; 

Expresses condolences to the friends and families of those who lost their lives at the hands of the Ukrainian security forces on Jan. 21, 2014;

Calls upon the Ukrainian government to bring those responsible for these acts of violence and repression to justice;

Continues to call for Ukrainian security forces and government to refrain from the use of violence and respect the people of Ukraine’s right of peaceful protest;

Urges the Government of Canada, in collaboration with like-minded nations, to consider all options, including sanctions, to ensure that the democratic space in Ukraine is protected;

And that this House stands united with the Ukrainian people, who believe in freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

Source: CBC News

Ukraine Bends On Protest Law, Offers Amnesty

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's embattled government has agreed to scrap harsh laws limiting protests and give amnesty to demonstrators who seized the Justice Ministry headquarters, a top official announced late Monday.

Protesters march in Ukraine's capital of Kiev on Monday, January 27. Ukraine has faced a deepening political crisis after weeks of protests by pro-Europe demonstrators that have escalated into deadly clashes with authorities.

With Ukraine's political crisis deepening, protesters left the ministry after Justice Minister Olena Lukash warned that she would call for a state of emergency.

But at the end of the day, Lukash said the anti-protest laws that went into effect on January 16 would be repealed and the protesters who occupied her ministry would receive amnesty -- as long as they cleared out of "all seized premises and roads."

The statement came after another round of talks between the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and an opposition whose followers have massed in and around central Kiev's Maidan Square to demand Yanukovych's ouster and new elections.

Police and protesters have fought pitched battles in the streets, leaving scores injured and several dead.

Anti-government demonstrators seized the Justice Ministry building on Sunday night.

They cleared out Monday after Lukash threatened to impose a state of emergency -- a step opposition spokeswoman Lesya Orobets warned could lead to the use of military units to suppress protests.

"We as an opposition spent the whole day trying to negotiate with people who actually captured the premises to get out of there, not to give them any legal base for a state of emergency," Orobets told CNN's Amanpour program.

Oleksandr Danylyuk, the leader of one of the protest factions, said the groups retreated to avert difficulties in negotiations between the government and opposition.

But while the protesters left the ministry, they remained outside, where a sign and front window were smashed, creating a blockade.

They jumped up and down, thumping sticks on the ground and shouting, "Bandits out."

The violence that has rattled Kiev for weeks spread outside the capital Sunday, with reports of protesters seizing municipal headquarters in other towns.

Ukraine's parliament was expected to hold a special session on the protests Tuesday, and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was headed for Kiev in a bid to help defuse the standoff.

Ashton urged the government not to impose a state of emergency, saying the move "would trigger a further downward spiral for Ukraine, which would benefit no one."

"What is urgently needed is a genuine dialogue to build a new consensus on the way forward," Ashton said in a written statement late Monday.

"I hope that the Ukrainian parliament will set a clear path during tomorrow's session towards a political solution. This must include revoking the package of laws passed on 16 January."

The clashes there are an escalation of weeks of largely peaceful public protests prompted by Yanukovych's decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia instead.

Among the snowy rooftops of Kiev, smoke can often be seen billowing from the city center, where thousands of demonstrators have massed despite freezing weather, setting up makeshift barricades and bombarding police with gasoline bombs.

Scenes of fires, burnt tires, smashed windows and the drumbeats of sticks on corrugated metal have become familiar occurrences on the city's central arteries.

More recently, protesters, old and young, have been voicing their anger about anti-protest laws passed this month.

The controversial new laws have sparked concerns that they could be used to put down demonstrations and deny people the right to free speech.

They're also calling for changes to the country's constitution.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, imprisoned since 2010 on charges the United States and Europe have called politically motivated, called on the opposition to remain firm in a statement Monday evening.

"The people of Ukraine went out onto the Maidan not for the opposition leaders to be given government posts, and not even for revoking of the dictatorial laws," Tymoshenko said.

"The people want fundamental changes in their lives, justice in Ukraine and a path to European values. This is their last chance."

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk has refused Yanukovich's offer to be prime minister, Lukash said Monday night.

Yatsenyuk, who heads the Fatherland Party, would have become the prime minister and would have been able to dismiss the current government, which has been one of the protesters' demands.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion, said Sunday that he had rejected the post of deputy prime minister on humanitarian issues.

His announcement was greeted by loud cheers from the crowd -- but his Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party, or UDAR, said it was ready to continue negotiations with the government.

Yanukovych also said he would agree to a working group to look at changes to the constitution, according to the President's website.

Source: CNN

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ukraine's Berkut Police: What Makes Them Special?

KIEV, Ukraine -- The name "Berkut", or "Golden Eagle" in Ukrainian, is synonymous with police brutality for many protesters in the capital, Kiev.

Berkut riot police shooting at Euromaidan protestors.

Berkut is an elite riot police force that has been at the forefront of recent deadly clashes there.

Its members have now been accused of beating, torturing and even shooting demonstrators.

Unprovoked attacks on journalists and medical workers have also been alleged.

Most recently, a video clip emerged, showing a naked protester apparently being abused and beaten by riot policemen who had stripped him in below-freezing temperatures.

While food and hot drinks were offered by sympathetic demonstrators to police officers and army servicemen amid the stand-off in late 2013, Berkut members have borne the brunt of anti-government ire after tensions flared up in January.

What is Berkut?

Berkut members are reported to be more carefully selected, better trained, paid and equipped than ordinary police units.

They are also said to have more senior officials as commanders.

The force was set up in 1992 and has its roots in Omon, the notoriously ruthless Soviet "special-purpose police".

Initially, Berkut's primary goal was to fight organised crime, but it has now changed to ensuring law and order during "mass events".

The Interior Ministry itself is headed by Vitaliy Zakharchenko, a steadfast supporter of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Mr Zakharchenko hails from the president's home region of Donetsk and is also reported to be close to his son, Oleksandr.

The media in Ukraine describe Berkut as an elite riot police force, whose members are carefully selected and rigorously trained.

To be accepted into Berkut, army service and at least two to three years of law-enforcement experience are said to be compulsory.

Chances of employment with Berkut increase if the applicant is an athlete with a proven track record, the media report.

Berkut has about 4,000 to 5,000 members stationed across Ukraine.

Local units are directly subordinated to the heads of regional Interior Ministry departments, instead of lower-ranking police officials such as district police chiefs.

It is not unusual for Berkut units to be dispatched from their bases to other regions.

Report say that many of them have been brought to Kiev from eastern Ukraine, which is more supportive of President Yanukovych.

Berkut members from more opposition-minded western Ukraine, meanwhile, have complained to the media that they were "mistrusted" by top commanders.

Berkut has some serious hardware at its disposal, including machine guns and armed personnel carriers.

Its members are also reportedly paid 1.5-2 times more than an average police officer. 

Source: BBC News

Killed Protester Mourned In Ukraine Amid Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of Ukrainians chanted "Hero!" and sang the national anthem on Sunday, as a coffin carrying a protester who was killed in last week's clashes with police was carried through the streets of the capital, underscoring the rising tensions in the country's two-month political crisis.

Protesters carry the coffin of Mikhail Zhiznevsky, 25, one of the protesters who died of gunshot wounds on Wednesday, during commemorate service in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday Jan. 26, 2014.

Mikhail Zhiznevsky, 25, was one of three protesters who died in clashes Wednesday. 

"He could have been my fiance, but he died defending my future so that I will live in a different Ukraine," said Nina Uvarov, a 25-year-old student from Kiev who wept as Zhiznevsky's body was carried out of St. Michael's Cathedral.

The opposition contends that Zhiznevsky and another activist were shot by police in an area where demonstrators had been throwing rocks and firebombs at riot police for several days.

The government claims the two demonstrators were killed with hunting rifles, which they say police do not carry.

The authorities would not say how the third protester died.

Meanwhile, protests against President Viktor Yanukovych continued to engulf the country, now beginning to spread to central and eastern Ukraine, the leader's support base.

In Dnipropetrovsk, 240 miles southeast of Kiev on the Dnipro River, several hundred demonstrators tried to storm a local administration building, but police drove them back with water sprayed from a fire truck in subfreezing temperatures, the Interfax news agency reported.

In Zaporozhets, about 45 miles down river, demonstrators gathered outside the city administration building.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych shelved a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union, but they have been increasingly gripped by people seeking more radical action, even as moderate opposition leaders have pleaded for the violence to end.

Zhiznevsky's body was then carried several hundred yards to Independence Square in central Kiev, where protesters have established a large tent camp and held demonstrations around the clock since early December.

Crowds shouted "Yanukovych is a murderer!" and "Down with the criminal," a reference to Yanukovych's run-ins with the law during his youth.

The coffin was then carried to the site of Zhiznevsky's death at barricades near the Ukrainian parliament.

A crowd late Saturday besieged a building, throwing fireworks, firebombs and rocks, near the protest tent camp where about 200 police were sheltering.

By early Sunday morning, a corridor was created, allowing police to leave.

On Sunday, activists were cleaning up the devastated Ukrainian House building, sweeping broken glass and furniture, but also the trash left there by police.

The overnight outburst came soon after opposition leaders issued a defiant response to Yanukovych's offer to make Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of their top figures, the country's prime minister.

While not rejecting the offer outright, Yatsenyuk said more of the opposition's demands must be met, including Yanukovych's resignation.

He vowed protests will continue.

About half of Ukraine's people favored deeper integration with the EU, according to polls, and many Ukrainians widely resent Russia's long influence over the country.

In the past week, demonstrators have seized government administration buildings in a score of cities in western Ukraine, where Yanukovych's support is weak and desire for European ties is strong.

Zhiznevsky was from Belarus, a neighboring ex-Soviet country where hardline President Alexander Lukashenko has jailed and harassed his opponents.

Vladimir Neklyaev, a Belarusian opposition leader, came to Kiev to bid farewell to Zhiznevsky.

"Ukraine is showing Belarus an example of how one should fight for freedom," Neklyaev said.

"I am sure that our countries have a common future in Europe, where neither Ukrainians nor Belarusians will die."

Despite an offer to release activists and stop more persecutions, the government continued a crackdown, with over 40 detained in the central city of Cherkasy after a protest, according to prosecutors.

Source: FOX News

Report: Ukraine Protesters Seize Justice Building

KIEV, Ukraine -- Opposition protesters seized one of the Justice Ministry buildings in central Kiev, according to media reports.

Protesters attack a government building in central Kiev, Ukraine. New violence erupted in Ukraine's capital during the night.

Dozens of Ukrainian protesters took over the building Sunday night, smashing its windows, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Similar reports were posted by (Russia Today), and

AFP said its correspondent reported protesters appeared to encounter no resistance.

It said they used trash containers to erect barricades outside the building.

Earlier Sunday, the Ukrainian opposition flatly rejected an offer from the president to share power following months of protests that turned deadly last week.

"No deal @ua_yanukovych, we're finishing what we started," tweeted opposition leader Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met with leaders of the three main parliamentary opposition groups for the second time Saturday, offering the prime minister's post to Yatseniuk, leader of Batkivshchyna, the largest opposition party. 

Former heavyweight boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko was offered a job of deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs.

After initially mulling the offers, and telling protesters gathered at Independence Square, "We are ready to take this responsibility and to lead Ukraine to European Union," Yatseniuk turned the post down, saying the president had not agreed to some key demands of the opposition including the calling of immediate elections, which are currently scheduled for next year. 

"Negotiations will continue," Klitschko said.

The protesters led by the opposition also want amnesty for protesters, a change in the constitution to give more powers to parliament over the president, the repeal of a tough anti-protest law adopted Jan. 16 and the signing of a free trade agreement with the European Union.

The protests initially began Kiev on Nov. 21 in reaction to Yanukovych's rejection of the EU deal. On Jan. 19, they turned violent, after protesters attacked police blocking a street leading to parliament.

Police confirmed two deaths in the violence, but protesters say five were killed after police fired live ammunition at the crowds.

Since then, the protesters have occupied more than 11 governors' offices around the country as well an exhibition center in downtown Kiev with some 200 police officers inside.

Opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok said the pressure has led Yanukovych to finally make concessions.

"Yanukovych talked to us only because you are here," Yatseniuk told the protesters. 

Analysts say that Yanukovych, a wily and tough operator who has run Ukraine since 2010, realizes his position has been weakened.

"This offer shows that Yanukovych is worried about the strength of his main resource – law enforcement," said political analyst Taras Berezovets of Berta Communications in Kiev.

"It's not surrender but an attempt to play for time. He wants to split opposition leaders with this offer."

"But the opposition won't accept it – it would be silly to when the protesters already control half of the (outlying) regions and Yanukovych is as weak as ever," Berezovets added.

Protesters say they don't support such an offer and vowed to stay on the streets.

"It doesn't seem right to me – I joined the protest because I want Yanukovych to go, and so did most of the people here," said protester Tetyana Yakovenko, 41, in Kiev.

"I'm not sure people will agree to go home just because the opposition gets government positions."

On Tuesday, lawmakers will hold a special session of parliament that is intended to discuss a change in ministers and possibly repeal of the new anti-protest laws. 

"Tuesday is judgment day," Yatseniuk told protesters.

"We don't believe what they say, we believe what they do."

Source: USA Today

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ukraine Clashes Resume In Kiev As Foreign Mediation Urged

KIEV, Ukraine -- Riots flared up again in the Ukrainian capital after the prime minister and the opposition called for foreign mediation to stem the unrest.

Demonstrators hold pictures of protesters killed in clashes with riot police during a memorial ceremony in the western city of Lviv, Ukraine.

Following a day of calm, clashes resumed shortly after 10 PM near parliament as protesters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks and police responded with rubber bullets and stun grenades.

The Interior Ministry said activists had kidnapped three riot police officers, though one had been released.

Protest leader Ihor Zhdanov denied the claim on Channel 5 TV.

President Viktor Yanukovych is struggling to stem rallies against his November snub of a European Union cooperation deal, with police crackdowns fanning people’s anger.

Four days of clashes left as many as five dead and 1,250 injured as laws to stem the protests took effect and police got special powers to quell the demonstrations.

Opposition politicians have been frustrated in their demands for snap elections.

“The situation in Ukraine is very explosive,” billionaire ex-Economy Minister Petro Poroshenko, who backs the protest movement, said yesterday from Davos, Switzerland.

“If the government behaves as if nothing is happening in the country, it will considerably complicate the search for a way out.”

The yield on government bonds due 2023 rose 19 basis points yesterday to 9.559 percent, advancing for a fifth straight day.

The hryvnia was 0.1 percent higher at 8.435 per dollar, having declined by 0.7 percent in the previous session.

Force Threat 

The Interior Ministry has no information on the two missing riot police officers, spokesman Serhiy Burlakov said in remarks broadcast by 5 TV.

If they’re not released soon, police will have to use force to get them, he said.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said yesterday that he’s speaking to Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, while opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged an international presence at talks that have so far failed to quell the anti-government protests.

Azarov said Switzerland’s tradition of neutrality makes it a candidate to assist in negotiations with the opposition, who want snap elections and the repeal of the anti-protest laws.

Klitschko said in a statement that Yanukovych wasn’t using “common sense” during their talks.

“Top Swiss officials haven’t made any comments that could be considered biased,” Azarov said yesterday in Davos.

“Switzerland is a neutral country that currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

OSCE help is very important in resolving of the conflict.”

‘Support, Expertise’ 

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said by e-mail that Burkhalter offered Azarov the OSCE’s “support and expertise” to search for ways out of the crisis.

While this week’s escalation in the protest movement occurred in Kiev, the focus has now switched to the regions as buildings of governors picked by Yanukovych were taken over by activists in the western cities of Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Lutsk, Ivano-Frankivsk and Khmelnytskyi.

Activists also targeted administrative offices in at least five more of the nation’s 24 regions, smashing their way in when police offered resistance, Ukrainian 5 TV reported.

Police detained 58 protesters in the Cherkasy region for attempting a takeover, the Interior Ministry said.

European Union justice chief Viviane Reding warned of the risk of civil war, CNBC reported.

As the unrest spread, Yanukovych made personnel changes.

He named Andriy Klyuyev as head of his administration, promoting the Security Council chief protesters have called on to resign after demonstrators were injured in 2012 clashes with police.

Yanukovych Exit 

Even so, the president ceded some ground, promising a cabinet shuffle and changes to the anti-rally bill at an emergency parliament session called for Jan. 28.

Klitschko told reporters later that protesters won’t be satisfied until the president resigns.

Parliament will also consider a no-confidence motion against the government next week, Svoboda party head Oleh Tyahnybok said Jan. 23 after hours of talks with Yanukovych.

Crowds on Independence Square raged at the lack of concessions won by opposition politicians, whistling as Tyahnybok spoke.

As part of a deal struck two days ago, three of the 103 activists who’ve been detained were freed yesterday morning.

It’s unclear when crisis negotiations will resume, Natalia Lysova, spokeswoman for jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko’s party, said yesterday by phone.

Little Hope 

“I don’t see talks leading to anything -- it’s been tried so many times,” said Ivan, a 20-year-old in an army helmet who’s been at Independence Square for a month and who declined to give his last name.

“We’ll achieve something once the president resigns.”

Demonstrators seized the Agriculture Ministry building near their tent camp yesterday to shelter from temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius (zero Fahrenheit) and set up a first-aid point, Interfax reported.

The protests that have gripped Kiev since last year escalated this week with the first deaths.

Police are investigating the discovery Jan. 22 of two bodies with gunshot wounds.

Live ammunition caused the deaths, the Interior Ministry said Jan. 23, denying its officers fired the bullets.

The opposition says five people have died, including one who fell off a colonnade after being beaten and another who was identified by his relatives after police found a body outside Kiev with signs of torture.

A thousand people have been injured, while an instigator of car protests that targeted officials’ homes is missing, activists say.

Policeman Shot 

About 250 policemen have sought medical help, the Interior Ministry said.

A 27-year-old officer was found shortly before midnight yesterday in Kiev with a gunshot would to the head, the ministry said on its website.

Protesters denied involvement.

EU officials, who’ve said they may reassess their relations with Ukraine after the violence, are seeking to broker a peace deal in Kiev.

Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule met Yanukovych and opposition yesterday, while Catherine Ashton, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, is due. Jan. 30-31.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he discussed Ukraine with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Montreux, Switzerland, calling on his American counterpart not to interfere in Ukraine, according to the transcript of a TV interview on the ministry website.

“It’s very important that from the outside there won’t be any calls which the opposition and especially militants can see as an encouragement,” he said.

Sitting at Independence Square next to an old metal barrel with burning firewood, Oleksandr, a 54-year-old electrician from Kamyanets-Podilsky in western Ukraine who declined to give his last name, urged a negotiated end to the crisis.

“I don’t think opposition leaders should change what they’re doing -- it’s better to reach our goals through peaceful talks,” he said.

“We’re all humans, we’re all Ukrainians, even though there are good and bad people on both sides.”

Source: Bloomberg